Content warning: This article discusses the author’s use of alcohol and cutting back, but does not result in total abstinence. Please be aware if this is a trigger for you.

Recently, I read The Alchohol Experiment, which challenges readers to give up drinking for 30 consecutive days. I used to drink very rarely but have found myself increasingly indulging in a glass of wine or happy hour margarita since I moved to New York City. I wanted to try this experiment for myself, to see how going sans booze influences my life or changes my health/body/work — especially as someone who loves fitness and being physically active. 

There’s also a lot of data to suggest that women experience negative side effects of drinking more than men do, which is an angle I’d like to explore with this experiment as well.

As a 24-year old who lives in NYC, booze has slowly become a large influence on my life. I used to drink very rarely; I would indulge in Jell-O shots at college frat parties or have a glass of wine when I was dining out at a restaurant. Drinking was no means a daily activity for me but was a pleasure I enjoyed indulging in from time to time.

When I moved to NYC two years ago, my relationship with booze started to shift. Booze is such a huge facet of the culture and lifestyle here, especially with so much of life being lived at cafes and restaurants. It’s hard to not get sucked into boozy brunches, happy hour, and the free cocktails that are served at events. Over the past year, I’ve slowly found alcohol beginning to take a more prevalent role in my life. I would start getting more excited about the prospect of going on a date for free drinks (#sorrynotsorry) than for getting to know someone. Wine became my partner in crime during cold winter nights of Real Housewives’ binging. 

I saw drinking becoming almost an unconscious habit for me, something I could reach to in moments of discomfort, anxiety, or loneliness. 

I saw drinking becoming almost an unconscious habit for me, something I could reach to in moments of discomfort, anxiety, or loneliness. 

I’ve been seeing many friends, as well as folks on Instagram who I’m friends with in my head, going on alcohol cleanses. Whether it’s to try to lose weight or find some kind of spiritual reprieve, I’ve noticed that giving up booze is almost considered to be a sign of enlightenment amongst millennials (though, no, it’s not a “trend”).

When I stumbled upon a copy of The Alchohol Experiment, which challenges readers to give up drinking for 30 consecutive days, I began to wonder if completing such a challenge myself could have benefits to my health, body, and work, especially as someone who works out 6 days a week and loves being physically active. I was eager to see how giving up drinking could impact my life. 

Although I considered this experiment a personal one, I couldn’t help but contemplate the larger implications of alcohol, gender, and health. It’s well documented that rates of binge drinking are increasing for women and minorities; there’s also plenty of data to suggest that women experience negative side effects of drinking more than men do, even if they drink at the exact same rates. 

“The alcohol research field has begun to recognize the importance of understanding gender differences in how alcohol is used… and in the development of alcohol dependence,” Enoch Gordis, M.D., director of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, commented in an NIH report. Despite this gender deficit in negative side effects, the medical community hasn’t focused on understanding how these differences are created. The larger consequences this gap in knowledge has created weighed heavily on me as I undertook this experiment, as I understood that women have more to lose when it comes to drinking, and yet, our specific needs aren’t being paid attention to.

“The alcohol research field has begun to recognize the importance of understanding gender differences in how alcohol is used… and in the development of alcohol dependence.”

The Experiment:

I began the experiment on the day I was flying home from an intense work trip where I was helping to run a 450 person conference across the country in San Francisco. Normally, a trip across 3 time zones would cause me to be down for the count, complete with a migraine and fatigue that would cause me to get home and pass out for 11 or 12 hours straight. However, I had planned my arrival, sleep, workout, and eating schedules for this trip to a tee, so when I touched down at JFK at 12 am EST, I was ready to go to bed, headache-free. 

At first, it was weird to follow my normal routines, minus the booze. Wednesday night with the Real Housewives were no longer accompanied by Cabernet, dinners out no longer included margaritas, and I couldn’t reach for the cocktail menu as a clutch on dates. But I wasn’t feeling deprived, necessarily, because I always remembered that I was making a conscious choice not to drink. It wasn’t about depriving myself, but about choosing sobriety. It’s amazing how powerful our minds are, as this subtle shift in framing made all of the difference in my thinking. 

It wasn’t about depriving myself, but about choosing sobriety. 

The Physical Changes:

1. My cravings subsided.

After a few days went by, I started to lose the taste for alcohol, as drinking slowly dissipated from my handbasket of habits. Not drinking seemed quite normal after maybe a week and a half of being off the sauce. Soon, I stopped craving the taste of alcohol on my tongue. I didn’t think about how nice it would be to sip a beer on a hot day or open a new bottle of wine late at night. 

Along with this, I found that I was craving sweets a lot less often than I normally would. As someone with a pretty significant sweet tooth, it was odd to not find myself making midnight bodega runs to fulfill a Hershey’s craving. Apparently, science offers an explanation for this: Those undergoing treatment for alcohol abuse were more likely to seek out food with high sugar content, as well as have a lower sensitivity to tasting sugar in foods. Although I’m not suffering from a substance abuse disorder, it would make sense that this connection between sweets and drinking could be seen on smaller scales.

2. My bloating subsided.

One of the biggest changes I noticed throughout the month was in my body. I am easily prone to bloating and also easily prone to obsessing about my body. I try to be as in-tune with my body as possible and have come to learn that drinking any alcohol makes me look extremely bloated the following day. Even one glass of wine will make it look like I have a full-on beer belly.

I’ll admit that I was looking forward to seeing myself potentially slim down and I did notice a visible difference in the size of my mid-section. I looked more toned, although I didn’t actually lose any weight. My body was just holding on to less excess water without booze in my system. Along with this, I found an unexpected change in my behavior, as it relates to food: My late-night snacking came to a screeching halt. I didn’t have the same desire to stuff my face with salty treats while snuggled in bed and found myself being much more mindful about my food choices. Instead of reaching for a treat to go with my drink, I really had to ask myself why I was eating. Facing this sobering reality (pun absolutely intended) caused me to face the emotional reasons behind my cravings, which led me away from snacking and deeper into my psyche.

3. I focused less on my weight.

I thought about weighing myself before and after this month, but decided that a number on the scale wasn’t important; it’s just a number, not a feeling. The feeling attached to the number is my perception, not an objective reality. How I felt was what really mattered. Who would have thought that going without alcohol would give me such a new perspective on my body?

The Mental Changes:

1. I saw the importance of mindset to success, firsthand.

They say that the mind is our greatest asset and most powerful tool. One of the biggest obstacles I faced in this challenge was my mindset, as to how I was framing this undertaking massively impacted how I responded to its obstacles. For example, if I focused on the restriction I was facing (“I can’t drink, this sucks”), I would start to harbor resentment towards those who were drinking or feel irritated at my circumstance. However, if I looked at this as an opportunity, if I reminded myself that I was not partaking in booze by choice, I would feel empowered. So much of my emotions and reactions during this 30 days could be connected directly to how I was mentally framing these issues.

2. I had to confront cognitive dissonance.

I realized through this experiment that I tend to judge others whom I deemed were either drinking too much or too little. I didn’t view myself as someone with substance abuse disorder or any sort of problematic relationship with alcohol and it forced me to confront my own judgments. I certainly didn’t see myself as boring or dull because I wasn’t having a drink, so how could I look at other people that way? 

3. I experienced the spotlight effect.

I had a lot of anxiety around being asked why I was abstaining, always wondering if people would notice that I wasn’t having any alcohol. I don’t think a single person asked me about not drinking, despite my fears, probably a result of the spotlight effect. The lesson: No one else cares what you’re doing. They’re too busy wrapped up in their own stuff to notice you.

4. I relieved internal discomfort with mocktails.

Much of the anxiety and FOMO I faced about not having a drink in my hand, I relieved by reaching towards iced matcha lattes, cold brew, and cold-pressed juices. Having a beverage in hand makes me feel a sense of internal comfort, almost like a comfort object. If I feel uncomfortable, want to take a pause, or need something to fidget with, I can reach for my drink. I’ve always had a love of all types of beverages, from iced teas to kombuchas and, of course, coffee.

The Emotional Changes:

1. I saw a huge improvement in my overall mood.

Emotionally, I have never felt better. Anytime I’ve cut out alcohol historically, I’ve experienced an overall stabilizing effect on my mood. As someone who suffers from bipolar II, my mood is often in one of two extremes and is usually indicative of how the rest of my life is going. I experienced very few mood swings during this month and felt more calm, rational, and emotionally stable throughout the experiment.

2. I connected to others more authentically.

I not only had the urge to connect to others more but found connecting to be much easier and authentic. I was able to be myself, without overthinking things or judging myself. 

We think of alcohol as social lubrication, because it makes us less inhibited. Some call it a truth serum, since our ability to filter ourselves and to think clearly. I don’t consider myself a very social person and would often find myself reaching for a drink in social situations, in order to ease my anxiety or calm my nerves. When I couldn’t do this, it caused me to be fully present in my interactions with others. I found my experiences reflected this mindful approach, as my conversations were deeper and connections more genuine. 

After the month of sobriety was over, I didn’t run headfirst into a bottle of tequila. Instead, I stayed true to my body and my intuition. I wasn’t wanting to drink, so I didn’t. Until I did. 

A few days later, I was in Domino Park, overlooking the Manhattan skyline on a sunny Saturday afternoon. It was hot, I was relaxed, and found myself open to the idea of cracking open a pale ale. So, I did, and it was delicious. I stopped at one because I was satisfied and honestly felt a pretty significant buzz after just twelve ounces, thanks to my period of abstinence.

My relationship with alcohol changed because I had become more aware of my intuition, as well as my physical body.

My relationship with alcohol changed because I had become more aware of my intuition, as well as my physical body. I understood my cravings, I was able to hear and listen to my bodies signals, and was much more aware of external influences on my alcohol consumption. I could overcome pressure, anxiety, and discomfort without needing a drink to mellow out. I also looked and felt my best, I was confident, as well as feeling physically healthy and well.

The experiment was successful but not for the reasons I expected. I learned that it wasn’t alcohol that was really causing me any grief, it was my relationship to it that needed to shift, and shift, it did.